“Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s move 40,000 people out of their offices and have them work from home starting tomorrow!”If someone were to say that to you on a normal day, you’d laugh. You’d be sure they were joking.
Yet that’s exactly what many companies did back in March 2020. They may have done it on different days, and with larger and smaller numbers of people, but they immediately moved everyone from working in their offices to working from home.
Once they saw that everyone had been moved and the business was still afloat the next thing, they wanted to know was whether other companies were in the same boat as they were. To answer that, we spoke with several corporate technology expense management (TEM) managers about their experiences and their go-forward planning.
The Mission – Protect Profits, Promote Productivity
Most everyone has heard some variation of the imperative to “make it work” then to “make it work right”, and finally to make it work more cost-effectively.
To make the mass movement home viable, everyone we spoke with had to innately prioritize what had to be done to keep people working. There was little time to think about it or make long drawn out decisions. Everybody had to do their best, and they did.
It was then that these telecom managers received their mission. “Protect the profitability while promoting the productivity” would probably be the most accurate way to phrase it.
Many immediately pulled out and dusted off their Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans. They soon realized that this was not the kind of event any of them had ever planned for. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and the like were all regional in nature. To some extent they could depend upon those in other regions to assist them.
But this pandemic is global.
With everyone isolated in their homes, the first priority was connectivity so they could all communicate with each other and access the resources they needed to do their work. Many of our telecom managers took their best guesstimate and ordered more circuits, more sip trunks, more licenses, more services of many kinds. The key was to keep everyone working and feeling well supported.
Once they had everyone safely isolating from the coronavirus and working with whatever connections they had, the time came to prioritize and improve what was most needed. Issues reported to us included:
Provisioning – When everyone is on-premises, provisioning is a simple matter of calculating bandwidth requirements and scaling services to meet them, with allowance for growth and burst periods. Now, the capacity question was not how much, but more of a simple “go/no-go.” Residential internet services vary widely from carrier to carrier and locale to locale. Some employees had insufficient bandwidth to stay consistently connected to the corporate network, or to support larger volumes of bigger data types such as voice and video.
Solutions started with determining whether or not a commercial-class service was available to them. Otherwise, mobile access might have to be considered.
Depending upon which telephony services were in use, more sip trunks and concurrent call paths might be needed to keep everyone communicating through the corporate virtual pbx or similar service. Specialty needs of work groups needed attention where work from home was never envisioned. Access to cloud services also required examination and adjustment.
Data and Network Security changed completely overnight. With almost every endpoint connecting remotely, more virtual private network (VPN) connections would need to be configured. The need for multi-factor authentication (MFA) also increased exponentially.
Equipment and Accessories – Easy to overlook, it was not reasonable to expect that everyone owned headsets or other accessories needed to support business-level use of home computers, if those home computers were even capable of it. Providing the same equipment to all users would help reduce support costs down the road. What needed to be determined and resolved was what everyone needed.
With everyone purchasing things themselves, and corporate purchasing out of the loop, how is all this new hardware inventory going to be tracked and managed? An important question to answer sooner rather than later.
Collaboration and Communication Platforms became critical to replace face-to-face team meetings and get work done. Many of these platforms provide video conferencing, screen sharing, simultaneous document editing. Some enable a “virtual pbx” capability in which members of the same organization can transfer calls to each other and reach each other via extension numbers as if they were all in the same place. Many are capable of replacing dedicated phone systems with tremendous potential to reduce telecom costs.
When evaluating these systems, it is critical to do a deep dive into the security of the system, as well as ease-of-use in addition to feature set and cost.
Anticipate a Precipitous Increase in Help Desk Calls – Especially in the early days following the move to working from home users will have many questions about how to get various things done remotely. Important strategies for reducing this and increasing productivity include a solid, comprehensive documentation and training plan that includes how to optimize security features, what capabilities are available and how to access them from a remote location.
Licensing Management and Optimization – The primary concern is to avoid over purchasing licenses in an effort to make sure all users have one. This often results in an idle inventory of excess licenses resulting in excess expense. Careful analysis is required to assure that each user has all the licensing required for their home-based operation, including network operating system, device operating system, VPN, remote access software such as Citrix, and all SaaS applications.
Prepare for Lights-Out Datacenter Operation
Any mission critical applications still running on company premises will require a plan for operating the company datacenters in the absence of operators. Power conditioning, control, and backup were considered critical to non-stop operation, and establishing a reliable remote systems visibility and management system was a frequently mentioned requirement. If everything has already been migrated to cloud-delivery, most providers make highly sophisticated tools available for comprehensive management and security.
Managing Much More Mobile
Managing and securing on-premise endpoints is always challenging. Managing and securing remote endpoints even more-so. Wireless mobile remote endpoints are about as challenging as it gets. Corporate TEM managers recommend paying close attention to optimizing the use of larger, shared access pools to optimize expense.
Depending upon your specific environment, many more users may be best served using wireless mobile devices. If your company has a BYOD initiative in place, you’ll need to carefully consider how you will assure management of continuing secure operation at every layer with a well-defined, broadly understood and enforceable governance plan.
Who Does What?
Many telecom managers report this transition being a welcome time to rethink which operations they have performed by their own staff, and which they outsource. The need to reserve their personnel for higher-priority more-important work has never been higher. Several managers noted that they had or were planning to take advantage of third-party resources that are available to take over much of the invoice evaluation, bill paying, and other workflow functions with excellent tools and systems to provide the highest accuracy, even at the highest speed.
Catch Your Breath – Then Cut Your Costs
An experienced manager suggested that the easiest way to assure overspending is to rush. In the first few days after work-from-home was mandated everybody was forced to rush. Rush to make sure everyone has the equipment they need, the services they need, the secure access and clear points of contact.
Once the dust settled, reality set in. Many circuits were ordered with redundant backup circuits “just in case.” Given the criticality of the processes they served, now telecom managers came to realize some of them were unnecessary. Time to make some changes from anticipated to actual reported utilization.
Since everything begins with the application, TEM managers we spoke with recommend that this is an important time for application rationalization. Some report applications still running and impacting budgets even though there are no longer any users. You may find other applications that are redundant with others in use elsewhere in the organization.
Still more licenses may have been hurriedly installed because the user was certain they’d need it for working from home. When monitoring shows these licenses to be unused it’s time to recover those licenses, removing them from those user’s desktops and deploying them elsewhere.
Feeling Overwhelmed Yet?
Consistently, many of the corporate TEM managers described times when all the changes that needed to be made in such a short time began to overwhelm them. Just as consistently their answer, when asked “what did you do?” was “prioritize!!”
When asked how they prioritized, on what criteria, the answer was also consistent. Their advice is to focus on those actions that drive revenue and/or reduce costs. Especially given the tremendous financial impact of the pandemic, the top priority was revenue.
For many, this resulted in new focus on eCommerce systems, or marketing systems, sales enablement services, and other revenue-generating activities.
For many business managers, this priority also translated into the perceived need to track and improve productivity from their people, especially when they couldn’t observe them directly. This has already resulted in the launch of many workflow automation projects to digitize supervision of the results.
While nobody can truly predict the future, we’ve already seen hints regarding what to look forward to. In the earliest days of this pandemic, Twitter announced that their standard for all employees would be work from home from now on. Their entire workforce. Other large, medium, and small companies have reported planning for similar announcements. Clearly, early productivity gains have proven the viability of work-from-home for far more employees than was surmised earlier.
Work-from-home shows great promise of becoming the new normal. Many are excited by this, and some are concerned. The time is now to determine how well prepared you are for this new operating standard.